"The Spirit of America" Is a Unique Combination of History and Art – See It at Ellis Island

Guitarist Duane Eddy presents "The Spirit of America" Gibson Les Paul Guitar to Superintendent Dave Luchsinger. NPS photo by Steven Sinski. (Bottom photo): The "Spirit of America" guitar. Photo courtesy of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation.

Music has been called a universal language, and now a unique musical instrument has been created to commemorate not only two important historic sites, but also some ideals that are central to the story of our nation. The Spirit of America Gibson Les Paul Guitar has just gone on display at Ellis Island in New York, and you can see it there until next August.

The concept of honoring historic structures and sites by incorporating bits and pieces from those locations isn't new, but this idea may be unique: materials preserved from the 1986 restoration of the Statue of Liberty and of Ellis Island have been used to create a one-of-a-kind guitar named The Spirit of America Gibson Les Paul Guitar.

This instrument was crafted by a company that is itself considered an icon by many in the world of music: Gibson’s Custom & Historic Division in Nashville, Tennessee. The guitar’s entire body is made from wood that came from the Main Building at Ellis Island, and the decorative inlay and hardware were crafted from copper salvaged during the Statue of Liberty’s restoration. Additionally, Gibson created a unique display for the guitar from a piece of one of the Statue’s armature bars—part of the framework that attaches her copper skin to her internal support structure.

The instrument is the second in a series of 50 works of art (one for each of the 50 states) that will be made from materials preserved from the 1986 restoration of the Statue of Liberty and of Ellis Island. These works will be known as “Liberty Ambassadors,” and according to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Foundation, "will serve to inspire hope and freedom while celebrating America’s diversity."

The Spirit of America Gibson Les Paul Guitar was unveiled in a ceremony at Ellis Island last week, and it will be on public display at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum through August 1, 2011. After playing a few riffs on The Spirit of America, Grammy Award-winning guitarist Duane Eddy presented the guitar to Superintendent Dave Luchsinger.

The Spirit of America guitar presents a unique opportunity to express through a contemporary medium, a rich historic past and the promise for a brighter future that the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island stories tell,” said Luchsinger. “The park is thrilled to be able to offer this exhibit to our visitors, and we were honored to have legendary guitarist Duane Eddy and his wife as our special guests at the unveiling of the exhibit.”

Ellis Island was designated as the site of one of the first federal immigration stations by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890, and between 1892 and 1954, over twelve million immigrants entered the United States through its doors. Ellis Island became part of Statue of Liberty National Monument, by Presidential proclamation, in 1965.

Ellis Island is accessible only by StatueCruises ferry boat, so plan ahead if you want to visit the site. You'll find details about ferry tickets, hours of operation and other key information about visiting Ellis Island on the park website.